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A stepparent will generally not be required to pay child support for a spouse's children from a prior relationship. Courts usually will not even consider how much a stepparent earns. However, depending on the specific facts of a case, a stepparent's income can still make a significant difference in the amount of support that must be paid for a biological parent.
As a preliminary matter, because child support is usually based on a percentage of a parent's net income, after getting married, a parent's net income may increase due to tax benefits. Other factors, such as a decrease in the cost of living for a remarried spouse, can also be factored in by a court to reduce a child support award. In the end, while a stepparent usually cannot be forced to pay, or have their wages garnished, if their spouse is paying child support, they are paying too, even if they're not legally liable.
Every state recognizes the injustice in requiring a stepparent to pay child support for stepchildren. Only when a stepparent adopts their stepchildren will they be personally liable for child support. However, typically, for a stepparent to adopt, the other parent (not their spouse) will have to terminate their parental rights.
Although a stepparent's income is typically excluded from calculating a child support award, the biological spouse's half of community property or their share of marital assets, or marital income from a jointly owned business, can be used to pay court-ordered child support.
Interestingly, the ramifications of the biological parent filing their taxes as a married person can work to increase, or decrease, child support liability. In one particularly odd situation, a stepparent can cause a biological parent to fall into a higher tax bracket, while not having an increase in income, thereby forcing the other party to pay more child support.
Unlike spousal support, or alimony, child support does not terminate when one, both, or either, parent remarries. Although a new marriage might provide the necessary change in circumstances to modify an existing child support order.
Generally, after a parent and stepparent divorce, there will be no legal obligation to provide child support, unless an adoption occurred. However, spousal support, or alimony, can still be awarded.
Meeting with a lawyer can help you understand your options and how to best protect your rights. Visit our attorney directory to find a lawyer near you who can help.